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“Love, Simon” provides relatable, crucial story for LGBTQ+ teens

April 5, 2018

Over the years, the two of us have read our fair share of YA romantic fiction. Naturally, we’ve whiled away our hours watching their movie adaptations as they’ve been released. No matter the caliber of the acting or the trueness to the book, each movie had something in common: the couples were all straight.

While more and more books featuring LGBTQ+ characters are finding their way onto bookshelves and best-selling lists, Hollywood has not been so quick to comply with this movement towards inclusivity. LGBTQ+ individuals exist in every population in the world, in all walks of life, but they are rarely depicted falling in love on the silver screen, especially not in films aimed towards the teenage demographic. “Love, Simon” fills this sorely-needed gap in the movie industry, hitting all the points of a solid romantic blockbuster with one twist: the protagonist Simon Spier is gay, and no one knows it.

Based off Becky Albertalli’s award winning YA novel “Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda,” “Love, Simon” tells the story of Simon Spier (played by Nick Robinson), a clean-shaven high school senior resembling every other teenage boy in movie history: from his iced coffee obsession to his unfortunate affinity for hoodies. After receiving an anonymous tip about a closeted gay classmate known as “Blue,” Simon begins writing emails to the boy under the alias “Jacques,” only to find himself slowly falling in love.

Instead of playing into the typical stereotypes often associated with gay individuals, “Love, Simon” gives LGBTQ+ youth an authentic character they can root for and, most importantly, relate to. Directed by the openly gay Greg Berlanti, the movie serves as a contrast to the hetero-normative themes so common in Hollywood today.

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Under Review: Love, Simon

From the “out” kid having a conservative grandmother to peers telling offhand, unintentionally homophobic jokes, “Love, Simon” does not shy away from depicting scenarios specific to gay youth, a refreshing contradiction to the notion that a straight audience will not want to watch a queer-centric movie. At one point, Simon tries to fit into gay appearance stereotypes, going so far as to google how “to dress like gay guys,” but realizes that he feels more comfortable staying true to how he has always been. Gay people are just like everyone else, this scene seems to declare; don’t change yourself to fit into a preconceived notion of who you think you should be. What could be a more meaningful message for straight and gay teens alike?

While “Love, Simon” frequently depends on teen movie tropes to move the story along—from an alcohol-drenched Halloween party to a drama-filled Homecoming game—the focus on the emotional aspects of the characters keeps these familiar plot points from feeling stale. What “Love, Simon” lacks in originality it makes up for with heart, making everyone, not just queer youth, feel represented.

In a particularly evocative scene, Simon’s best friend Leah (Katherine Langford) describes the “invisible line” she struggles to cross in her everyday life, keeping her from feeling included. In another, Abby (Alexander Shipp), a sparkling transfer student and Simon’s newest friend, discusses feeling like she has to hide away her pain over her parent’s recent divorce, leading her to take on her bubbly persona.

“Love, Simon” was touching; that is for sure. We teared up more than a handful of times between the two of us, and judging from the faint sniffling noises coming from the row behind us, so did many of our fellow moviegoers.

What made “Love, Simon” so sad, however, was not the scene in which Simon deals with the aftermath of his being outed to his whole high school or even the scene in which his dad apologizes for remaining oblivious to his son’s true identity. The movie’s sadness lies in the thousands of stories not told, of the countless LGBTQ+ youths who will not have a happy ending.

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PRISM organizes outing to watch “Love, Simon”

“Love, Simon” highlights the normality of LGBTQ+ youth but only skims through some of the issues that continue to affect these teens after they come out. Spoiler alert: Simon’s ending may be picture-perfect, complete with a kiss at the top of a ferris wheel, but not every youth’s first publicly gay act is accompanied by a crowd of cheering classmates and a conveniently-situated carnival ride. In 2015, 34% of LGBTQ+ students reported they were bullied at school and 10% reported they were threatened with a weapon at school.

Having representation in media, especially mainstream media like big-name movies, is critical for the growing number of LGBTQ+ youth in America. When executed correctly, including queer characters that teens can relate to helps them realize that they aren’t different and normalizes the queer community for other audiences.

PRISM, the club for LGBTQ+ students and their allies, saw “Love, Simon” together on March 31. After nearly half a dozen students asked that PRISM sponsor an outing to see the movie, the PRISM board decided to organize the event, with the intent to use it as a jumping-off point for discussion about queer representation in media.

“There needs to be more diversity and more exposure so that kids can go out there and identify with the people on the screen,” freshman Sydney Hammerman said.

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What “Love, Simon” means for LGBTQ+ representation in media

Although there has been a growing body of LGBTQ+ influenced media in the past years, the movie industry has struggled to represent these characters in a meaningful way, both in terms of authenticity and diversity. Gay characters are frequently relegated to serving as the punchline to off-color jokes and oftentimes are not present at all — in 2016, only 23 movies released by major studios featured members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Love, Simon” is not the only film in recent history to feature an LGBTQ protagonist. In early 2017, Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” broke barriers by becoming the first LGBTQ-centred movie to be awarded the Oscar for Best Picture while simultaneously navigating equally important issues regarding family and society. “Moonlight” stands out even among queer-themed movies because it is centered on a queer person of color — the overwhelming majority of queer characters are white (69%) and male (83%) — but its true focus isn’t the fact that the character is gay. Unlike, “Love Simon,” which debuted under a large studio name, “Moonlight” led a much smaller release, only to 1,104 theatres before its Oscar win.

Family and friends are the foundation of “Love, Simon,” and it is the actions of Simon’s friends and family that ultimately sends a message of hope to teens everywhere, queer and straight, that there will come a time when every person will feel accepted for who they are.

“You get to exhale now, Simon. You get to be more you than you have been in a very long time.” Simon’s mother is speaking to her son, but she might as well be speaking directly to the legions of queer youth watching the film. “You deserve everything you want,” she continues. And who doesn’t want to hear that?

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